While many voters and commentators now regard Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as different sides of the same political or ideological coin one doesn’t have to travel too far back in time to find a period when the differences between both parties were still quite substantial. Until recent decades FF regularly found merit in its claim to be the party of the working- and lower middle-classes, of the “corner boys” and “small farmers”; of being both “slightly constitutional” and slightly capitalist. Despite the emergence of the more entrepreneurial “men in mohair suits” among its ranks in the 1950s and ’60s the self-styled “Republican Party” continued to lean to the populist left on certain socio-economic matters, appealing to a base that was “sound” on the national question without necessarily being overly eager about the answer.
However with the rise of the parish pump dynasties that came to dominate Irish politics at the end of the 20th century, of second and third generation politicians with no direct memories of revolution or counterevolution, the previously inhospitable no man’s land between the Soldiers of Destiny and the Family of the Irish began to narrow. This continued into the 1980s and ’90s until common ground was reached on the issue of partition, making the acceptance of the north-south status quo the new normal in Dublin, sidelining the previous demand among many for a return to the status quo ante on the island. With the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 the last scraps of distinction between FF and FG were laid to rest along with the ghosts of civil war. By the early 2000s FF and FG had mutated into fairly conventional centre-right Christian Democrat parties, putting an occasional Hibernian twist on their enthusiasm for mainstream Western neoliberal policies, but otherwise turning old ideological affiliations into mere affectations of tradition or branding.
Today the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Irish politics are all but identical, removing even the veneer of occasional democratic change that once hung over the post-revolution duopoly. A situation that draws comparison with events in the United States where the economic differences between the leaderships of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are often more imagined than real, with only a handful of topics like religion or race providing more overt tokens of separation. Though even these are sometimes played more for the sake of electoral theatrics than genuine belief.
Have a look at this sparring confrontation between longtime Clinton apologist Richard Goodstein and the hosts of the YouTube current affairs show The Rising, Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti. The double-think and cant is incredible as he continues to defend the Clinton camp’s vendetta against Bernie Sanders. A vendetta born of self-entitlement and privilege. The sort of entitlement that made Hilary Clinton assume that she had the automatic right to be president, and infuriated when denied it. Which sounds not unlike certain politicians in our own ruling cartel in the aftermath of the recent history-making general election.
I saw that! I try very hard not to hate anyone, but that Hilary apologist is so odious I almost enjoyed being enraged by him. He’s the embodiment of the consultant class parvenu.
I’d say that analysis wildly underplays the difference between US and Irish party politics. The two nations have very, very different contexts. I would really think twice about making direct comparisons here. Ireland’s parties still have roots in the country’s -relatively recent- independence from Britain. To be blunt, I think you are really, really barking up the wrong tree by comparing Bernie to any Irish political party. Remember most Democrats are sympathetic to Ireland if the troubles start again, in a way they wouldn’t have dared in the 1980’s. While you making false equivalences between Bernie and Irish political parties probably won’t ruin that-It’s not exactly a good idea either.
The to say the US Republicans and Democrats aren’t that different is errant nonsense. Not only does the GOP want to completely do away with Obamacare, get rid of Medicaid, do away with rent control, trade out food stamps for ration boxes, and more. They have utterly sold out the party of “Abe, Teddy, and Ike” to become the party that panders to reactionary white Southerners come hell or high water. They sold what was left to Donald Trump.
The Democrats are a totally different party. All Bernie Sanders does is make promises with no plans on HOW they are to be delivered-much like Trump. He also really did hurt Hilary Clinton after he lost the nomination. There is such a thing as party loyalty. You can switch teams, but you can hurt your own team member and demand the nomination next time around. That’s just not how any modern Democracy should operate
I think you are making a very common mistake among Europeans. You are putting way, way too much weight on the fact Sanders uses the word socialist. If you were looking at a menu in a US restaurant would you absolutely insist on understanding menu items like “chips”, “french fries”, “soup”, “biscuits and gravy”, “bacon”, “ham”, “sandwich on a baguette”, and more exactly as you would interpret them in Europe? Of course not. Savvy traveler across the Atlantic in either direction always know not just the obvious ones like “chips”, “bacon” etc, but also to look before they leap in general. Yet, some European commentators insist on treating political language of US candidates exactly the way they would be understood in Europe.
The reality is simply that in most of the US, people use “Socialist” to refer the people you’d call “Trots”. Those who want a more egalitarian society but ultimately support a mixed economy generally use the term “Progressive”. So “Progressive-Socialist-Trot” it’s as much as a language things as “french fries-chips-crisps”, simple as that. Bernie does come from one of a few demographics who use the term Socialist in a Western European way. New York Jews have long followed a more European convention. So do people in some areas of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Even though US usage is closer to both Oxford and Merriam-Webster definitions, this is mostly down to convention and historical context. The biggest “open secret” of the US is this: It has always been a mixed economy of some kind. There has never been an attempt at Laissez-Faire capitalism or communism. Most European countries have had one or both of those things. The US is a country that has always for one reason or another had to be a mixed economy to survive-until at least 1900 even theorizing Laissez-Faire Capitalism or Soicalism was seen as a luxury the nation absolutely could not afford. There was a time when the Feds put a certain region under a state planned regime for big industry. Large industry was state planned, while private industry was mostly agrarian and small business-like some of the “reformed” late communist regimes. This is not talked about in the US as Socialism at all. It’s called “Reconstruction”-an attempt to rebuild and reform The South after The Civil War and end of slavery. It’s clear Seamus you have more than enough knowledge to realize what I’m saying here is in fact true. You probably know the relevant facts without even having to look anything up.
I can also tell you that much skepticism to fully-state funded health care with no “top-up” insurance has less to do with “fear of socialism” or “love of Capitalism”, than a labor union tradition that was after all started by a native of County Cork, Ireland. Mary Harris aka “Mother” Jones, firmly believed that state provided health care (including Teddy Roosevelt’s push for a model much like the one Canada later adopted) was nothing more than a tax funded way to subsidize large employers who pay their workers peanuts. Most labor unions still abide by it. I actually believe a German model would be better than what Bernie wants anyhow.
Many anti-Sanders Democrats actually know that Bernie isn’t so much different politically from a lot of other Democrats, as raised under that linguistic convention. They don’t think he’s actually a “Trot”. What many of us do see is much, much more disturbing and it’s something the media either here or in Europe isn’t talking about. To most historically savvy Americans it is IN YOUR FACE OBVIOUS, that he had much the same combination of mental inflexibility and ego that Woodrow Wilson did. Many of us blame those traits for why Wilson got us into WWI despite having started out very, very anti-war-he had grown up in the Confederacy. To me and most Democrats disgust with Bernie has nothing to do with the fact he calls himself a socialist. It has to do with Trump-like empty promises, lack of loyalty to the Democratic party (and indeed sneering contempt for most Democrats), and seeing eerily similar traits to the ones that got us into WWI just staring us right in the face. This isn’t media fear-mongering, because the media doesn’t talk about it. A lot of people I know noticed the Wilson-Sanders resemblance independently.
Why do so many Europeans see the US as both a bastion of Laissez-Faire Capitalism and a nation where historical context simply doesn’t matter despite so much evidence to the contrary? I believe a lot of it comes fromThe Cold War, and an incident in 1929 when some American Communists wrote an essay saying “The usual laws of Marxism don’t work in the US” and Stalin published an absolutely vitriolic response (actually the first use of the term “American Exceptionalism). However I also believe a portion really does come down to the dismissive attitude European originally had of ALL the late 18th, early 19th century post-Colonial Republics of North and South America, the US simply became a force to be reckoned with a lot sooner and to a greater degree than Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and other nations that Europe has only started to take a little bit seriously much, much more recently.
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But the economic policies of both parties at the leadership level are more similar than dissimilar, which is what I was referring to. And what united FF and FG now is a near common agreement on economic matters. And in both cases the economics shape the society.
The only real difference between top Dems and Reps is the nature of the exploitation. Between those who think that stomping over the poor keeps them in their place and those who think that throwing tidbits to the poor keeps them in their place.
And yes it is more nuanced than that but I’m just giving a brush strokes view and analogy.
And yes Sanders is a fairweather Dem but what choice is there when the American system is locked into a two-party system at a national level. It’s not as if the US electoral system is gonna yield 20 or 25 congresspeople belonging to the Socialist Party of America or any other party sitting as a bloc and contesting legislation or whatever.
Sanders has his faults but , Jesus, stumbling a-fumblibg outright fibbing Joe Biden? Trump will chew him up for breakfast. It’s Hillary all over again. An Establishment figure to fight an non-Establishment figure.
Even if Biden wins, so what? Aside from identity culture bollocksology nothing changes. The gap between rich and poor grows.
But hey, at least the poor will have more access to abortions and gay weddings to amuse them under a Biden neo-Clinton White House.
Anyone who thinks the Democrats and GOP don’t have different economic policies hasn’t looked at the manifesto of either party or the vast majority of major candidates from either party. They have levels of difference over economic policies where some European countries have multi-party consensus on Democratic positions. To say that the only differences involve gay marriage and abortion are freaking nonsense. To say that abortion and gay marriage are the only non-economic differences are freaking nonsense when voters rights are an issue in some places. Did you not know that all the Democrats have different positions on whether the Feds will enforce voters rights or let certain Southern States “do their own thing” on the matter? Or does that not really matter in your book because of it’s the word “socialist” that you think is all important? Even if Bernie’s use of that word doesn’t really count for anything.
I know this might also be “identity bollocksology” in your book, but Virginia just ratified the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment). Which party prevails can be a factor in whether or not that means ratification. Hey, there was a time where I thought the ERA was no longer needed, just like the “Child Labor Amendment” seems like a relic. Now I suspect that these Southern “culture warriors” aren’t going to stop fighting until the whole US has stricter bans on married working women than Ireland did in the 1950’s and where most girls leave school by 12. Really an Amendment is the only long term way to bring them to heel.
Bernie is also extremely conservative for a Democrat on issues like Electoral Reform, Fillibuster and other fairly serious US political process questions.
If FF and FG really do have a near consensus on economic issues, then you are absolutely mistaken to assume the same thing is remotely true of the Democratic Party and GOP. Not only are there massive economic differences between even the most conservative Democrats and the most Liberals Republicans these days (which wasn’t true in the 1970’s, but the GOP is being taken over by a faction of angry reactionary Southerners who actually ARE a lot like the DUP in terms of their mentality and extremism.
Bernie is not this one guy who can win. He is as much out to destroy the Democratic party as Nigel Farage is to destroy the European Union. There is no debate about the fact his actions helped Trump win in 2016 and that he displayed a complete lack of integrity and party loyalty in doing so.
There actually are a number of “contender” third parties out there that stand a better chance such as “Working Families”, “Peace and Freedom” and other that stand a better chance than those who bear the name Socialist-And the name Socialist doesn’t mean the same thing here that it does in most of Europe anyhow.
I get that your are excited about the realignment in Irish Party politics and hope it does go as well as you say. However, you have barked up the wrong tree big time, by assuming these direct analogies to US Democratic parities work at all. They don’t. You are talking about profoundly different animals.
Fair enough. But again, at a leadership level the Dems and GOP seem to swim very much in the same pool even if at opposite ends. The degree of separation is greater than that between FF and FG here in Ireland, that’s a given. But I always think of Dem and GOP families, like the Morning Joe duo, or James Carville and Mary Matalin. These guys can sit comfortably in each other’s company because, really, what differentiates them? Like, MSNBC with all it’s tame GOPers and Dem lobbyists presenting and guesting. They are flip sides of the same coin.
Yeah, lower down activists, supporters or registered voters may have a chasm between them. But at the top? Millionaires and billionaires and the apologists for that over class divided by little of real substance.
The reference to a socialist party was just an example. Is there any organised bloc in the US Congress that does not exist within or derive its power from the duopoly? Yes, US national politics is not based on a multiparty parliamentary system for obvious historical, constitutional and geographical reasons. So the similarities can only go so far. But honestly, I fail to see much of a difference between centrist Democrat or Republican leaders outside of playing to their bases during electoral cycles. Taking the extremes as the norm is not the right comparison.
But thanks for your insight. Very good to hear and I’m sure we’ll informed as, you know, an actual American! 😉
The reason politicians with different parties can “sit comfortably in each other’s company” is because the US Government is designed so that very little gets done without some element of bi-partisan or multi-partisan cooperation in Congress. In a trias politica being able to deal with people who have profoundly different politics and values from your own, is simply part of any politician’s job. It doesn’t mean profound ideological differences don’t exist. It simply means than the politicians are usually less confrontational than in a Parliamentary system.
As for having a multiparty set-up in Congress. It’s a myth that the US Constitution would prevent that. Lincoln won against not one but three rivals. The two party thing was not the norm until after The Civil War. Many state legislatures are firmly multiparty now, despite having the same electoral rules within the states as Congress.
It’s also the case that US States could choose (if they have more than one Representative, as most states do) to consolidate districts and do a run-off voting system much like the one with Ireland’s lower house. States with a single representative could also do a run-off system with obviously no consoldiation. The only things that would require a Constitutional Amendment would be to require all states adopt such rules for electing their Representatives, or to do any kind of “ranked choices voting” for Senators. (The current method for electing Senators is in the 17th Amendment 1912-before that they were chosen by State Legislatures, much like members of the Upper House are in The Indian Parliament or The Russian Duma.).
There are also ways of reforming the election process that would require a Constitutional Amendment, and even one or two options that would require that as much of the current Presidential Election Process is really in State Legislation-not The Constitution.
It’s a total myth that the US Constitution would need a complete rewrite for the country to go multiparty. There are many parties such as “Working Families”, “Peace and Freedom” and even “Legal Marijuana Now!!!” that have a much deeper group of long term supporters than anyone is going to get by simply calling himself “A Socialist”. A lot of my anti-war friends introduced me to WW2 Vet Dads who were hoping for a revival of Peace and Freedom and I know 25 year olds trying to make that happen.
I also believe that there are ways to be more multiparty without totally rewriting the Constitution. However, I’m not a fan of the term Socialist in a US context. I call myself a Progressive. Nothing I believe in would contradict the dictionary definition of the term Progressive. However I believe that “pure” Socialism and Capitalism are impossible in the real world.
I also trust you accept that the US has been a mixed economy from inception? Also that most of the Original 13 Colonies and Republic of Vermont were mixed economies before The American Revolution.
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Again, thanks for those points. You’re there and it’s your territory so I take what you say with due respect. I’m just looking in from the outside. And through an inevitably narrow window.
Political contexts are hard to translate. I know I find Parliamentary politics nearly impossible to grasp, even though I can “get” both French style semi-Presidential governments and other Trias Politca systems (ei Mexico) pretty easy to grasp.
If you just watch any US political debate knowing that “Progressive/Socialist/Trot” follows the same language patterns as “French Fries/chips/crisps” I suspect that it would look very different, very quickly. That is part of what most European media misses on a routine basis.
The bigger part of it is in fact the historical context. Part of the misunderstanding goes back to Adam Smith himself. That founder of Laissez-Faire Capitalism had a high level of interest in the American Experiment. However The Experiment really didn’t reciprocate. The US Founders actually called Smith’s ideas “The Monkey Economy”. What they adopted was a Nationalized Mixed Economy initially known as “The American System”-more on that point later.
Until at least the 1920’s nearly all Americans-even the intellectuals-would have seen anything BUT a mixed economy as a luxury their country couldn’t even afford to think about. The realities of a young post-colonial nation of the late 18th early 19th century, Civil War, Reconstruction, the massive recessions of the late 19th century, the 1930’s Dustbowl and more all reinforced this thinking.
Indeed the idea that getting rid of either private enterprise, or alternately state sponsored or state run enterprise, as something that COULD be done in the name of ideology, rather than something absolutely precluded by the most basic demands of national survival at every level, was accepted by less than 1% of Americans until the 1950’s. Then all of a sudden the Cold War conventional wisdom that mixed economies are nothing more than a half-way house between capitalism and socialism, came to dominate the international conventional wisdom almost overnight.
In a few short years, the US political dialogue went from 150 odd years of “mixed economy as only option” to “Mixed economies just aren’t a thing. You have to be a Communist, Socialist, or a Capitalist”. Of course, the idea of a mixed economy is still pretty ingrained in the people. If you start probing people who self-identify as “Socialist” or “Capitalist” to be more specific about their beliefs, 90% of them actually do support a mixed economy. This reality, did in many ways really distort the way people describe and talk about their beliefs regarding economic issues. In many ways, Americans are responsible for this, and Europeans can’t be blamed for misunderstanding. However, there absolutely is a historical context of the kind most European simply won’t accept could apply to a country like the US.
Going back to The American System. The New Green Deal has been around in some fashion since the late 1970’s. To those who know what to look for it’s pretty darned obvious this Green New Deal is yet another modernized iteration of The American System that was adopted in 1816, dressed up in a nice new modern suit with a briefcase filled with plans for photovoltaics and energy storage schemes. This is not in any sense a criticism of the New Green Deal, so much as outlining things I can see pretty easily, but the European media is almost guaranteed to miss.
However there is a deeper problem at play. Nearly all US Progressives believes that to be a Progressive (or in fact, anything but an extreme right winger) you must absolutely oppose any sort of National VAT, and advocate that most state which have a sales tax get rid of it. They don’t realize that the EU mandates a VAT or that most European countries pay for their social programs plus everything else by including a VAT along with income, payroll and property taxes. 95% of US born progressive consider a National VAT as utterly incompatible with “Progressivism” as any kind as you would see declaring Cromwell the greatest man who ever lived incompatible with Irish Republicanism. Language surrounding even most sales taxes or VAT at the state level or routinely described with language such “Kicking the working classes and poor right in the teeth”, even in states where a state level sales tax actually was the solution to gross inequalities in public schools, transit, libraries, etc.
Whether this New Green Deal or even a non-declining mixed economy will be tenable without a national VAT is debatable. When I pointed out to my father (He’s a fairly typical Boston-bred Liberal) that Sweden and Denmark have a VAT, he growled “This isn’t the way your mother and I raised you.” and refused to speak to me for a week. My mother pushed him to cut out the silent treatment, but he didn’t entirely forgive the comment until he and my mother took a vacation to Copenhagen and Germany. In Copenhagen, he was able to see for himself that Denmark actually does have the social benefits reported and a VAT as well.
A good deal of the divide you are seeing between Democrats isn’t so much conservative vs. progressive is the fact that Bernie Sanders keeps promising and promising he can deliver all these programs while only raising taxes on people in the top quintile for income. Meanwhile other Democrats are afraid to raise income taxes on the working and middle classes. They aren’t doing this to hob-nob with billionaires, but about what they realistic think the country can afford under any tax system they were trained to see as morally acceptable at any level. With Hillary Clinton it’s a good this conditioning was started by the working class Daddy she idolized. Based on all accounts of that father-daughter relationship the training probably started when Hilary Rodham was about eight years old at the absolute latest.
I should have mentioned something else. Maine has already adopted an RCV voting system for not just for the Governor and State Legislature, but also for Senator, their two Reps, and President. Along with Nebraska, Maine is the only state that still uses districts for its electoral votes rather than granting them all to the candidate with the thinnest majority. (Earlier on most of the states used district systems rather than granting all the electoral votes based on a state majority.)
Six states have rules to do the Primary and RCV and some other places have moved to follow Maine’s example or at least elect state and local official by RCV. As odd or insignificant as this all may look to you, it’s actually very, very similar to the pattern followed by Women’s Suffrage-with states in many respects paving the way for an amendment by writing their own plans first. Often what happens with reform in the US (and some other Federal Trias Politica countries of The Americas) is that when a critical mass of states create laws that go in the relevant direction, it is a lot easier to create a successful national movement-especially when a Constitutional Amendment is an object.
Of course, it’s a myth that a Trias Politica is doomed to be a two party system, unless it gets rewritten as a Parliamentary system. Mexico is a Trias politica (much like the US except the Napoleonic code part!!), and since the 1990’s it has gone from being dominated by the PRI to having six viable parties in “El Congreso de la Union”.
“He also really did hurt Hilary Clinton after he lost the nomination.”
Thanks for all your help – Hillary Clinton.
The clue in Obamacare is in the name – it was brought in a very short few years ago. Plenty of other Democrats had their own chance to bring similar legislation and didn’t.make anything stick.
Looking at it from the outside it seems a corrupt bloated oligarchy of a party, favoured sons and daughters getting the nod from cigar-smoking grandees.
Exactly! Also known as “America”, applies to both parties. Looks just as much like the same shyte from the inside out. A lot like having no choice but FF or FG. I hope enough people see now that they will have to split off and create a real Socialist Party there, even if it means returd dominance for a while, or even a coalition-type government. Eventually people will see that it can’t go on that way.